Don’t let the publicity photos of the ensemble cast clad in Seventies-era tuxes and flower-child dresses, or even the cloying Mumford-mimicking soundtrack on the trailer, fool you: Captain Fantastic ain’t some twee, cutesy Wes Anderson romp or Little Miss Sunshine knockoff. This dramedy, marking the feature debut of longtime actor Matt Ross (who most recently played the role of Gavin Belson on Silicon Valley), has the breezy Americana momentum of a hobo riding the rails and the dramatic chops of none other than Viggo Mortensen. If it weren’t for the god-awful music and a few tonal missteps, this would be a near-perfect meditation on love, loss, and the evolution of the American child.
Ben Cash (Mortensen) rides into town in his family’s converted school bus and finds out from his sister Harper (Kathryn Hahn) that his wife “finally” committed suicide while hospitalized near her parents in New Mexico. Ben delivers the news to his six kids as they sit in their survivalist bunks in the family yurt, but the grieving is brief -- the family still has its “training.”
Given its original premise and solid execution, Captain Fantastic’s music doesn’t gel at all. The portrayal of a stricken but good-hearted family that eschews all modern luxuries is mismatched with bland indie and commercial pop hits. It’s like someone hit shuffle on an ordinary “cool dad’s” iPod and let it go. But Ben Cash isn’t a cool dad -- he’s a sensitive though perhaps borderline-psychopath survivalist -- and this endearing, original film is deserving of some equally antiestablishment anthems.